After each episode in Game of Thrones Season 6, we’ll be adjudicating a crucial question: Who is currently the worst person in Westeros? This week, technology and culture writer Jacob Brogan is joined by Slate science editor Susan Matthews.
Brogan: Hi, Susan! Thanks for joining me this week to talk about “Oathbreaker,” which turned out to be the comedy episode of Game of Thrones. We had some A+ incest humor from the always-welcome Lady Olenna, and Tyrion showed up just long enough to propose what I think was a drinking game of thrones, for which we absolutely need to establish some rules. Plus, we saw Sam throwing up into a pot and witnessed Tormund deflating last week’s miraculous resurrection with a joke about how small Jon Snow’s dick is: “I saw your pecker. What kind of god would have a pecker that small?” I’d be irritated with that one, but Tormund’s nickname is Giantsbane, so I guess he’s seen bigger.
There was plenty of awful stuff going on, but for once it mostly felt incidental to the humor. So who’s the worst this week? The High Sparrow? Qyburn and his creepy child army? Perhaps even Jon Snow himself?
Matthews: You know, when we saw Sam come back finally, I was so relieved, because he normally provides such reliable comic relief. But then the entire episode really kept on surprising me when it came to Game of Thrones humor. In particular, Jaime and Cersei walking around with their one huge Frankenstein guardian is starting to feel quite laughable. He may be undead, but he is just one dude. Even Cersei admitted the limits to his power!
The army of child spies was an unexpected twist. Varys owned up to his personal strategy for getting what he wants (by making people happy), but giving kids candy to do his bidding is so gross and would feel pretty predatory if we weren’t constantly reminded of his eunuch status. There was an equally terrible vibe between Tommen and the High Sparrow—as soon as he asked to sit down, alarm bells started going off, but Tommen continues to be the most boring king/character possible.
I’m going to have to say that Jon Snow himself is my vote for the worst person in Westeros this week, though. I mean, he just got revived from being dead and the first thing he says is that he’s pissed about getting murdered? Um, that was just resolved for you, Jon. Embrace your great new haircut and perk up.
Brogan: This may be the ultimate joke that the episode played on us: We’ve been waiting for months to learn whether Jon had really kicked the bucket, and now that he’s back, I kind of wish that he was gone again. Varys and Qyburn give candy to orphans, and the High Sparrow is turning poor, stupid Tommen against his mother, but in this episode we had the distinct pleasure of watching Jon literally murder a child. Was Olly terrible? Yes, always. But watching Jon hang him was still a lot.
Now, the obvious rejoinder there is that Jon is just doing his duty as lord commander of the Night’s Watch. But as he storms off at the end of the episode he pronounces, “My watch has ended,” presumably indicating that death has freed him from his vows. How are we supposed to feel about that?
Matthews: The scene where Jon had to hang his murderers felt quite reminiscent of one of the earliest episodes where Ned Stark beheads someone himself because that’s what being an honorable leader requires. But Jon’s reaction to this duty felt very un–Ned Stark to me. Of course, in this same episode we’ve learned that Ned Stark might not be the great, honorable leader that we might have always assumed.
There was a moment where I wanted to give Jon the benefit of the doubt—in his mind, coming back from the dead has always been associated with becoming a white walker. So I guess I can see how maybe it’s a little scary. But then Alliser Thorne’s last words were about how he’s done his duty and now he will get to rest, while Jon is going to have to keep fighting everyone’s battles forever. First of all, I’m not even sure Jon is immortal? Melisandre almost certainly doesn’t know! And second, can we just have one episode of having our hero back before he spirals into an existential crisis about (possible) immortality?
Brogan: Jon’s had his low points and his bleak moments, but he’s also been the closest thing that we have to a clasically heroic fantasy protagonist on this show. That early beheading scene is a good reference point, not least of all because it involved Ned punishing a member of the Night’s Watch who’d fled the Wall after seeing the white walkers, I think. By contrast, Jon’s encountered plenty of monstrous foes and has carried on largely unperturbed. But he dies for a few days and suddenly he’s smoking clove cigarettes and reading Camus?
I suppose it’s reasonable that he would spiral a bit after coming back from the dead: That line about seeing nothing after being stabbed was a brutal indication of what he went through—and a nice rejoinder to those who thought he’d warged into his direwolf, Ghost. Still, I think the link back to the younger—and slightly debased—Ned that we get in this episode is important. It turns out that doing your duty doesn’t make you good. And reneging on your responsibilities may not be any better.
Perhaps death has revealed the true Jon Snow to us: He’s always been that sort of sexy, distant emo dude with good hair, but now we’re getting to know the real guy and it turns out that he kinda sucks. But, hey: butt shot!
Matthews: Right, the real Jon Snow might not be the hero we thought. But frankly who isn’t a sucker for twisted, tormented men? Jon Snow can be the worst person in Westeros, but honestly twisted Jon Snow may be even sexier.
Brogan: Old Jon Snow knew nothing. Existentialist Jon Snow knows nothingness. And we love to hate him for it.
Matthews: I’m still mad at him for his completely weird reaction to being resurrected. If being alive again isn’t going to make him even slightly happy, what will? Go away, Jon Snow.
Brogan: Jon Snow, you are the worst.